Monday, December 22, 2003

JERUSALEM (UPI) — Two Jews slowly approached yellow armchairs on a platform in Jerusalem’s Independence Park. The man, in a red gold-embroidered skullcap, bowed and placed a silver crown on one seat. The woman beside him placed a robe on the other.

Both bowed repeatedly as spectators from 70 countries as far apart as South Korea and the United States stood watching. Jerusalem police estimated the crowd gathered yesterday at 8,000 persons.

“The [Jews] rejection of Jesus is restored and He is honored as king of peace, welcomed by the Jewish people and embraced and loved as the Lord,” declared the Rev. Michael Jenkins, a minister of the Unification Church, representing the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP).

A Christian clergyman then placed two thick candles on a low table in front of the yellow chairs. “The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is now recognized as God’s prophet,” Mr. Jenkins said. “We believe in Muhammad.”

Two Muslims then gave a Jewish professor a golden menorah as a symbol of reconciliation with the Jews, and the Jews returned the gesture with a black robe. “The best of what God gave you, you want to give to the other,” said Taj Hamad, a Muslim of Sudan, who donned the robe.

The ceremony was designed partly to convey the idea of the participants that Judaism, Christianity and Islam must reconcile to advance peace in the Middle East. “We should break down all boundaries that divide people, we should live together in mutual respect and cooperation,” said the Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak, chairman of the IIFWP and the Interreligious and International Peace Council. Mr. Kwak is chairman and president of News World Communications, which owns The Washington Times and United Press International.

(The Jerusalem Post reported that members of Lev L’achim, an Israeli organization that opposes attempts to convert Jews to other faiths, protested outside the guarded gates that enclosed the event. Chang Shik Yang, chairman of the rally, told the Post that the event, broadcast worldwide over the Internet, was not intended to recruit members for the Unification Church, founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The Jerusalem conference was organized under the auspices of the Rev. Moon. “The age of conversion is over,” Mr. Chang said. “We have respect for each of the various faiths. Rev. Moon is working beyond all denominations for world peace.”)

Mr. Jenkins said religious leaders can support the peace process, help keep it alive when political negotiations hit snags, and give it their blessing once an agreement is achieved. “Without political leaders we cannot achieve peace,” he said.

However, he said, religious people are in a better position to reach reconciliation. Sheik Mohammed Khalil Kiwan, the imam of Majd al-Kurum in the Galilee, said such a group “could introduce some pressure into the politicians’ hearts.”

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